Summary Trials and the Severance of Issues
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with an interesting question: is a Court order for severance of issues required prior to a Court adjudicating an issue (as opposed to the entirety of a claim) in a summary trial?
The reason why this is an issue is due to two competing Rules of Court. Rule 9-7(2) permits a party to “apply to the court for judgement…either on an issue or generally“. On the face of it this rule seems to permit a party to apply for only part of a case to be dealt with summarily. However, Rule 12-5(67) requires a Court Order to sever issues in a lawsuit stating that “the court may order that one or more questions of fact or law arising in an action be tried and determined before the others“:.
In this week’s case (Chun v. Smit) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision. He brought a motion for the issue of liability to be addressed on a summary trial. The Defendant opposed arguing that a summary trial was not appropriate. Mr. Justice McEwan agreed and dismissed the application. In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons finding that an order to sever issues under Rule 12-5(67) is a prerequisite to having only part of a case tried by way of summary trial:
 The question is really whether Rule 9-7 merely describes a mode of trial, while the claim or cause of action remains otherwise subject to the rules that govern trial, or whether the trial of an “issue” under Rule 9-7, where that issue is the severance of liability from quantum, somehow bypasses Rule 12-5 (67) and falls to be decided on a lower standard.
 In the brief passage excerpted from Bramwell (above), three different approaches are apparent. It seems to me, however, that whether the test for severance, or of a trial of an “issue” is rationalized as within or outside Rule 9-7, it must meet the standard set out in Bramwell. Rule 9-7 is, in itself, a departure from the ordinary mode of hearing a trial, and proceedings within it are contingent upon the court accepting that the compromises inherent in that process will not impair the courts’ ability to do justice. That being so, it would be illogical that collateral to the compromises inherent in proceeding by summary trial, other aspect of the process were similarly downgraded. If a trial of an issue is found to be an appropriate way to proceed, it may be tried under Rule 9-7, if Rule 9-7 itself is properly applicable. Where a party seeks to proceed on only part of a case under Rule 9-7, the first question is whether there should be severance at all, and the second is whether Rule 9-7 is appropriate. The correct approach is set out in Bramwell, which would bind me in any case (see Hansard Spruce Mills Ltd. (Re),  4 D.L.R. 590 (B.C.S.C.)).